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Primary Care: A Cornerstone of Better Health

 

Let’s say you’re seeing an endocrinologist to treat your diabetes. You’re following up with a podiatrist for your feet and an ophthalmologist to check your eyes. You have a cardiologist monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol, and you consulted with a vascular surgeon about a sore on your leg that was taking a long time to heal.

You may also have a pulmonologist watching your COPD, an orthopedic specialist helping you with your knee pain and urologist helping you with your prostate or incontinence.

We’re lucky that all these medical specialties and more are available in our area, without having to trek downtown into Atlanta or out to Birmingham for care. But what seems to be missing from this list of doctor visits is a primary care provider.

It’s easy to lose site of the value of having a primary care provider, especially if you’re reasonably healthy or are under the care of other physicians. But primary care providers have the most complete picture of your overall health, partnering with you to coordinate care and ensure you’re receiving the treatments and follow-up you need to achieve your best possible level of health.

Still, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, as many as 28 percent of American men and 17 percent of American women report having no primary care provider.

Research has found that patients who have a primary care provider with whom they engage regularly have a 19 percent lower risk of premature death. Emergency department utilization is also much higher among those who have no primary care provider: a 2011 study in the North Carolina Medical Journal found that almost 60 percent of all ED visits at four Charlotte-area hospitals were for ambulatory care-sensitive conditions that could best have been treated in a primary care practice setting or have even been prevented with primary care interventions.

Here are some valuable reasons you need to see a primary care provider on a regular basis:

  • Familiarity – Most people are more comfortable discussing their health candidly with a provider with whom they have a trusting relationship. Primary care providers take time to know their patients, their patients’ histories and use that information to drive recommendations on testing, diagnoses and more. Primary care providers excel at delivering personalized care.
     
  • Comprehensive Care – Primary care providers are trained to help with a plethora of health problems, from flu-like symptoms to joint pain, depression to heartburn. They also can see the overall picture of how symptoms may be related to help drive more effective treatments, and can coordinate care between specialists to ensure that one provider’s plan of care doesn’t negatively impact another’s.
     
  • Early Detection – Primary care providers are trained to provide screenings that can identify a number of diseases and conditions at their earliest stages when treatment can be most effective, including heart disease, cancer, chronic illnesses like diabetes and more.
     
  • Disease Management – People who live with chronic diseases often see a specialist (like those mentioned above), but regular visits with a primary care provider can help them identify additional health concerns related to their disease as well as additional resources that can improve their quality of life.
     
  • Care Coordination – As a quarterback on the football field calls plays for the team, primary care providers are able to “quarterback” a patient’s care, helping to organize specialists, health coaches, behavioral health providers, dietitians, community wellness programs and more. Primary care providers can make referrals, handle follow-ups and coordinate patient care among multiple providers.

If you need a primary care provider, you can find one near you by calling Tanner’s 24-hour physician referral line at 770.214.CARE or by looking for family medicine providers and internal medicine providers online using Tanner’s Find a Doctor feature at tanner.org.

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